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Why are all these Iowa county fair chickens looking so stylish?

Evie Gehrig
Sarah, the third place winner in the Best Dressed category
By Deena Shanker
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Avian flu is sweeping through the country’s chicken barns, responsible for the deaths of more than 48 million birds by the USDA’s latest count. Egg prices are up, breakfast options are down, and the affected industries are pissed.

The outbreak also threatened the annual 4-H/FFA Poultry Show at the Linn County Fair in Central City, Iowa, which has been held for more than 20 years and draws about 300 people. The state enacted a ban on live poultry shows to try to stop the spread of the virus just a few weeks before the Fair, says Jackie Bohlken, The Linn County 4-H poultry committee co-chair. “I had kids calling in tears,” she told Quartz, “and I almost was, too.” Soon, though, a new plan emerged that gained the full support of the fair board.

The fair would go on, with face painting, play-dough sculpting, and many, many photos of chickens in lieu of a live pageant. Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, spoke about the spread of avian flu. Ribbons were won. It was, by all accounts, a success.

Evie Gehrig, the 10-year-old participant owner of Sarah, featured above, as well as 25-30 other birds, says she had a great time dressing up her chicken, trying a number of outfits from her American Girl Doll and Build-A-Bear collections. ”I picked [this outfit] because it was really cute, and [Sarah] liked it,” Gehrig told Quartz. “She was the most cooperative chicken.” If given the choice next year, Gehrig says, she would do the photo version of the fair instead of the live one. She’s even thinking about putting together a calendar.

In the end, 215 photos were submitted to be judged in the 21 regular classes of chickens—down from the usual 500 or so, “but still pretty good for having no birds at the fair,” Bohlken says. (We agree.) And that doesn’t count the 65 birds in “special classes,” with prizes for good sartorial choices and especially homely birds. Her son, 17-year-old Micheal Bohlken, provided the photos below.

Little M, Bantam Spangled Old English Game Hen (Michael Bohlken)
Little Chick, Bantam Buff Brahama Hen (Michael Bohlken)
Red Girl, Red Rhode Island Hen (Michael Bohlken)
Red Cubalaya Hen (Michael Bohlken)
Pepper, Bantam Black Cochin Hen (Michael Bohlken)
Splash Arancana Rooster (Michael Bohlken)
Best Dressed winner, Wobbler turkey wearing a Coach scarf and bangles (Michael Bohlken)

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